On Ritual and Thanksgiving

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thanksgiving.jpgThe sun is setting around 4.45 pm these days and the last week has been colder than hell.  We're getting to the point in the year when the shock of an abrupt onset of Winter pales in comparison to the immediate seasonal depression that has taken hold.  But I don't care about any of that because this is my favorite time of the year, and Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year.  With so much upside and so few negatives, how could anyone disagree?

First, Thanksgiving has no involvement from the man upstairs.  I don't have anything against religious holidays, but they can't be enjoyed by everyone at once.  I'm not trying to be too controversial or anything, but the way that Christmas has been twisted into an American secular holiday by retail outlets and the greeting card industry is revolting to me as someone who doesn't and never will celebrate it.  Thanksgiving doesn't have the issue of being tied to religiosity and that's really the cornerstone of what makes it so fantastic because this lack of dogma allows for all of Thanksgiving's brilliance to shine.

As someone who hates to be told what to do, that one can celebrate Thanksgiving any way they see fit is another huge plus.  I know it's traditional to have turkey, cranberry and pumpkin pie but you don't have to in order to feel that you've participated fully in the day, I say this as someone who has never had more than one bite of pumpkin pie in his entire life.  I went to watch the floats of the parade one year, one year out of the twenty-five when I was aware of what was happening.  There's a few football games on and for many people that aspect of the day figures in, but it doesn't for me because I would probably lose my life if I spent another day parked on the couch watching football.  You don't even have to eat turkey; I don't. The revelation that a friend had steak would be accompanied by room shaking record scratch sound effect.  As I see it, there is really only one requirement: you must have a meal with people you like.  That's it.  There are no rituals that must be observed, no particular food that must be consumed.  You do what you want to do.

As an extension of this, Thanksgiving also shines as a friend holiday more than a family holiday.  Once you're in college, Thanksgiving takes on a role different than any other because it's first time in the school year that all your friends are home at the same time.  Every school has a different mid-term break, and Christmas is too far and too family dominated, so Thanksgiving becomes the holiday when you hang out with your friends.  At least this is the case with me and my friends, even if we spent a few hours of the day itself with our families, the night before and everything after the actual event were given over to catching up.  And this tradition has kept up even though we're all removed from school by now, mostly.

But this year I'm departing from that a little and in that change Thanksgiving shows off all of its values.  I'm currently writing from the San Francisco area spending the holiday with my girlfriend's family out here.  This is the first time I wont be in New York for Thanksgiving in my entire life, it's the first time I wont be attending a friend's annual Night Before Thanksgiving Party in fifteen years.  And that's great, because there's nothing better to Thanksgiving than it's malleability.  Even our personal traditions can be tweaked, stretched, enhanced, even changed dramatically, as long we are ourselves adaptable enough.

On a larger note, this holiday is really the best of America.  There's a lot that America hasn't done right lately, in fact we've been getting a lot of stuff wrong for a long time.  If you go all the way back to the sordid details of this nation's origins, one could make the argument that Thanksgiving is nothing more than another ruse put upon us, another trumped up version of the American story that is so totally full of holes.  That may be.  But, since there's so little mandated on Thanksgiving, I prefer to give it my own ethos and I take its name literally, and to that end it will always stand up.  Because, even though the world seems to be collapsing around our heads, there is always something to give thanks for.  Family, friends, and yes, even this country that, for all its ills and upcoming crises, still inspires hope in millions.

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